Wednesday, February 10, 2010

UPDATE-> PO'd: Starbucks Pourover Brewed Coffee

EDIT- @Starbucks reports that pourover will only be used for decaf and bold-pick-o-the-day/week/month. Strike 3 for this idea. Pourover equipment and training is being rolled out and all this work will result in no more choice for customers.
  • Forget my comments below about pourover being too much work to solve a simpler problem- the problem will remain unsolved.
  • Nevermind my observations that with a little more effort, a much higher quality drink could be delivered- the quality is being held down at its current level, or possibly reduced since the two coffee options will be held pre-ground in canisters until they're ordered.
Let's hope Starbucks can rally for the next inning, tweak and put the right equipment on the front counter near a grinder, offer up the whole menu to their customers who are clamoring for it, and sell it (whole bean, equipment, the experience) for a win.

The solution as currently proposed is the equivalent of Jack In The Box deciding to turn off half the flavors in their soda fountain in the afternoon. Come on Starbucks; give us what we want- your coffee.


Seeing @CoffeeCity's post about Starbucks upcoming enterprise-wide introduction of pourover brewed coffee, I felt compelled to run my mouth on twitter. I complained that Starbucks was once again half-right in a program rollout and @jessekahn rightfully called me on it. Here's where I hope to justify some of my jaw-jacking.

Starbucks appears to be using pourover to solve a self-inflicted problem: far-too-static brewed coffee choices and utter absence of customer-choice pressed coffee (and the deleterious effect that has on whole bean coffee sales).

Prior to the introduction of Pike Place Roast as the default coffee brewed in all stores, all day, three different coffees were offered in the morning- two regular, one decaf. These would rotate on a daily or weekly schedule depending on which Starbucks era you're considering. This rotation could be a blessing or a curse depending on which Starbucks coffees you prefer. One day you might walk in to find Verona and Sidamo while another day would present you with LightNote Blend and French. Related, when's the last time Starbucks has served their former signature House Blend?

With the standardization on PPR, suddenly variety was decimated. I would argue variety wasn't halved, but actually quartered or worse. Instead of any two days of the week presenting you with 4 potential different rotating coffees, suddenly only 1 could change and with the mantra drifting towards "consistency" I've witnessed the non-PPR coffee being the same blend for weeks on end... see my twitter stream for more whining. I'm not here to rail against PPR- Starbucks was getting reamed in "taste tests" and I think partly due to the reviewers comparing apples to oranges- Dunkin's daily bland blend was the same store to store, but a reviewer would enter a Starbucks and not have the sense to ask for a press of House Blend if French Roast and LightNote Blend were on tap for the day.

A parallel problem is the de-facto shelving of pressed coffee in the stores. Sure, it's on the menu, but as a customer, it feels like an act of congress would be required to crack a flavorlock and get a french press of a coffee that's not PPR or the bold pick of the day (er, week, er month).

These two issues taken together create an environment where customers aren't very informed about the 20+ coffees (yes, that many) available as whole bean. The packages are pretty, but if they're not cracked opened and offered to customers, those pretty packages are going to sit on the shelves and rot. Let's not forget the only brewing done when Starbucks opened in the 70's was sampling to customers in order to close whole bean sales. No sampling = no whole bean sales. How much labor must be thrown at an espresso-based drink? Most of the drink's cost is tied up in labor. Whole bean coffee labor required? None- ring it, bag it, next.

As a regular Starbucks brewed coffee customer, I'll be very glad to see pourover available on the bar because I'm dying for more choice. I'm just aware that it didn't have to come to this. Fixing the infrastructure and programs Starbucks already had would have delivered a similar result.

My other quibbles are technicalities and have more to do with how the rollout works out in stores. I'm hopeful the hiccups below will be resolved.
  • The equipment is Melitta-style, in spite of the fact that Hario v60 (and in some cases Abid Clever) is becoming the standard. If 15th Ave Coffee & Tea has proved the superiority of v60, why can't R&D see the light and roll out a modern pourover brewer?
  • The equipment is NOT customer facing. If you're going to tie up the labor to brew by-the-cup, why not put the baristas in a place where they can talk to the customer about the coffee and prod a bit to see if they want to take a bag of whole bean home. The customer choosing custom-pourover is not a pour-me-that-drip-in-a-hurry-ima-outta-here person- they want to engage the coffee a bit more and they want some barista interaction. Give it to them and reap the rewards.
  • The equipment likely will not be sold in stores-- Starbucks is presspot centric; Seattle's Best Coffee are the keepers of the Melitta flame. Having noted that, selling the pourover should have been a no-brainer. "If you enjoy this cup of coffee, I'd encourage you to visit the shelf over there and pick up this brewer and some filters." The kicker is that the brewing equipment is all of $3- retail. If you can't sell a $3 coffee brewer-- please don't make me finish this sentence. Sell a sexy kettle and maybe even a tasty hand-grinder to go with it. Foster that grand old class of customer- whole bean consumers. Remember them? The ones that will drop $12 at the cash register and walk away without using even 30 seconds of your labor budget.
  • The pourover presentation is not unique or inspiring- it is literally plastic. The re-purposed toolboxes at 15th Ave Coffee & Tea seemed ham fisted and designed by someone who didn't understand their use, but they were unique. The Hario 1" thick, 6 foot long 6 station pourover that I think visited Roy St was unique. The plexi smallwares shown on CoffeeCity are a snoozer. Combine that with the lack of customer action and you have a recipe for me impatiently staring laser beams into the back of a barista's head, then to my watch, and back again for 3 minutes until my coffee is ready and I can leave.


Melody206 said...

Oh my god you make so many great points, and this blog post is so well written. Love your description of an act of congress needed to get afternoon coffee. Love love love your blog post. Yes, now if only they'd take pour over, turn into a customer facing exciting experience, and bring *gasp* coffee merchandise to the stores' shelves!

Anonymous said...

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Coffee Equipment